MSs questioned representatives of Transport for Wales about passenger numbers, new trains and a review of timetables.
The Senedd’s climate change committee took evidence from James Price, chief executive, as part of its annual scrutiny of Transport for Wales (TfW).
Mr Price told MSs a £100 million funding gap has come from a lack of revenue growth due to the pandemic, saying: “What we have lost is three years of expected high growth….
“While we will recover, I don’t imagine that we will recover overnight.”
Mr Price explained that TfW’s cost base is lower than the forecast of KeolisAmey, which previously operated the Wales and Borders franchise.
He said: “It would be very easy and I would almost expect people to believe that the public sector … would be more expensive than the private – that is demonstrably not the case.”
Mr Price warned that the biggest constraint on TfW’s ambition is infrastructure as he raised concerns about a reduction in Network Rail’s funding.
Huw Irranca-Davies, a Labour backbencher, asked about recovery of passenger numbers in Wales compared with other parts of the UK.
Mr Price said demand numbers bounced back quicker than in England, which has since caught up while Wales has plateaued.
He told the committee that growth seems to have “taken off” in the past six weeks, with a significant jump in revenue.
Highlighting the challenges, he said: “The last few days on core valleys lines we have left people behind at Llandaff … which is reminiscent of pre-Covid times.
“Demand is there which is good because we’re about to be putting on significant extra capacity on the metro.”
Delyth Jewell, for Plaid Cymru, asked about the target of 95 per cent of journeys being on new trains by the end of 2024.
Mr Price said he has double checked the plausibility of the target as it felt too ambitious.
However, he maintained that while it is tight, it is an achievable target – with train manufacturer CAF delivering a new train every 11-12 days.
He told committee members that TfW should have electric metro trains running on all Treherbert, Aberdare and Merthyr Tydfil services by next summer.
Mr Price suggested the previous bid process for the Wales and Borders franchise created an unhealthy set of expectations.
The chief executive said the TfW will hit nearly all the KeolisAmey targets but two or three years later than expected.
He said: “My preference would be to be boringly reliable and 100% trustworthy rather than in a shiny suit offering people stuff then explaining away why they don’t get some of it.”
Mr Price explained that TfW will aim to avoid duplication when bus services are re-regulated, so trains and buses are not competing on the same routes.
Llyr Gruffydd, who chairs the committee, raised concerns about the lack of services and carriages for Wales football matches, accusing TfW of being in a “circle of denial”.
He criticised a special service from Cardiff to Wrexham put on after the Wales-Turkey match on Tuesday November 21.
The Plaid Cymru MS explained that fans would not have left the stadium until about 9.50pm.
“To expect people to get to Cardiff Central for 10.05pm is frankly ridiculous,” he said.
Mr Price told MSs: “We have not traditionally focused on football but that is something that we will be doing and we are going to meet with the football association.”
Asked about a review of timetables, he stressed that TfW has not set out to take away any significant services but he warned of some minor negative impacts.
“People take life choices around the railway,” he said.
Mr Price told MSs that the Welsh Government is considering the proposed changes and TfW will then consult the public.
Jan Chaudry-Van Der Velde, chief operations officer, added that any change for services outside of the valley lines would take effect from December 2024 at the earliest.
He said TfW has rushed through exceptional changes to the Wrexham-Bidston line, increasing frequency to one train every 45 minutes from December.
Jenny Rathbone, the Labour MS for Cardiff Central, asked about previous evidence that the north and south Wales metros are largely just a concept.
Mr Price said: “We can develop all the schemes in the world but if we can’t get them funded, they won’t happen.”